Posts Tagged With: Mazagae

The Gateway to the East

The Nature of Curtius
Book Eight Chapter 11-14
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Eleven
Ain’t No Outcrop High Enough
After leaving Mazagae, Alexander’s next major engagement was at the Aornis* Rock. Hercules himself had once laid siege to this ‘rocky outcrop’ only to be forced into retreat by an earthquake. At first, it did not look like Alexander would fare any better. The land remained still, but the rock looked impregnable.

Curtius describes the Aornis Rock as being conical in shape and ‘precipitously sheer on every side’. Could the Macedonians climb it like they had the Sogdian Rock? Yes, and they would, but not easily, for the Aornis was protected by both the Indus River, which ran ‘deep with steep banks on both sides’ and ‘sheer chasms and ravines’.

At first, Alexander ‘was baffled’ as to what to do. Then, ‘an old man who knew the area’ offered to ‘show him a way up, for a price’. Alexander accepted the man’s offer but did not rely on his help alone**. Remembering how he had approached Sisimithres’ outcrop (see here), the king ordered his men to fill the chasm.

The operation took seven days to complete. Once the chasm had been filled, Alexander led his men in a climb up the cliff face. It was a perilous journey as the cliff was slippery. And things took a turn for the worse when the Indians saw them coming and starting rolling ‘huge boulders’ over the side of the cliff. Some Macedonians were killed by them, but the rest made it to the top.

In the hand-to-hand fighting that followed, the natives held the advantage because they were on the higher ground. Indeed, Alexander was forced to retreat and decided to abandon his siege. He could not withdraw, however, without making ‘a show of persevering with the siege, ordering roads to be blocked, siege-towers moved up, and exhausted troops replaced by others’.

This did not appear to impress the Indians who now ‘spent two days and nights feasting and beating drums… ostentatiously demonstrating not only their confidence but their belief that they had won. On the third night, however, drumbeats were no longer heard’. The Indians had fled.

Discovering what had happened, Alexander ordered his men to give ‘a concerted shout’. This ‘struck terror into the Indians’. Thinking that the Macedonians were behind them many ‘hurled themselves to their deaths down the slippery crags and impassable rocks’. Others ‘suffered mutilations… and were abandoned by their uninjured comrades’.

Alexander had snatched victory out of defeat. But not a victory over the Indians; rather, as Curtius says, ‘over the terrain’ – just as he had been doing ever since starting his campaign.

* aka Aornus or Aornos

** In the end, it appears that Alexander made it to the top of the Aornis Rock before the man did

Chapter Twelve
The Calm Before the Storm
At the Indus River, Alexander met the ever-reliable Hephaestion* who presented the king with his new boats. Curtius doesn’t say where Alexander met Omphis, the king of Taxila – whether it was on the near or far side of the rive; according to Arrian it was the latter.

Omphis had already been in touch with Hephaestion – and given him corn gratis while the boat building had been carried out. Now, he entertained the whole Macedonian army for three days. Gifts were shared between the kings. As well as gold and silver, Omphis gave Alexander fifty-six elephants, ‘large numbers of sheep of exceptional size’, and three thousand bulls. Impressed by his generosity, Alexander returned the gifts along with extra treasure from his booty.

* And, presumably, Perdiccas though Curtius does not mention him

Chapter Thirteen
A Prelude To War
Alexander sent an order to Abisares and Porus that they must submit to him. Abisares did but Porus refused. At the same time, Barzaentes* was caught and presented to the Macedonian king along with thirty elephants in his possession. These were sent to Omphis.

The Macedonian army arrived at the Hydaspes River. They were watched from the other side by Porus and his army.

As well as thirty thousand infantry and three hundred chariots, Porus’ strength included ‘eighty-five enormously powerful elephants’. He himself sat atop one ‘which towered above the other beasts’.

The sight of Porus’ army ‘alarmed’ the Macedonians. But it wasn’t the only thing on their minds – the river caused concern as well. ‘[F]our stades wide’, the Hydaspes was deep, too, and had a fast current. Curtius describes it as being like a ‘torrential cataract’. The way the water rebounded on itself suggested that there were rocks beneath the surface as well. Crossing it would be difficult.

Following a skirmish between Macedonian and Indian soldiers on an island in the river, Alexander decided to use one for his crossing. First, though, he had to get his men to it without Porus seeing. This was achieved by having Ptolemy** carry out aggressive manoeuvres downstream. This would hopefully convince Porus that they were a prelude to an attack. To complete the ruse, Alexander had the royal tent set up in full view of the enemy and one of his soldiers who bore a resemblance to him dressed up in royal clothing to give the impression that he was staying put.

As Ptolemy carried out his manoeuvres, and the fake-Alexander remained in his tent, the king led the rest of the army through a ravine to the point where he intended to cross the river. It was delayed by a fierce storm. When the rain lifted, ‘cloud-cover… blocked out the daylight’. ‘Another man would have been terrified by the darkness’ but Alexander ‘derived glory from perilous situations’ so jumped into his boat and led the way in silence across the river to the island.

When they reached it, the Macedonians found the island deserted. And when they set foot on the far bank of the Hydaspes, they arrived unnoticed. The Indians were all watching Ptolemy.

* The erstwhile satrap of Drangiana who had fled from Alexander while the latter was in Artacana, see here for more details

** According to Arrian, Craterus carried out the distraction manoeuvres while Ptolemy accompanied Alexander

Chapter Fourteen
Alexander’s Last Major Battle
The Battle of the Hydaspes River was shaped by two important elements: the earth and elephants.

The rainfall had reduced the earth to mud. This made the ground ‘slippery and impossible to ride upon’. Thus, when Porus sent his chariots to intercept the Macedonian army they were able to make no impression upon it. They simply got ‘stuck in the mud and quagmires’. By contrast, Alexander – who had light-armed troops with him – was able to go on the attack with ease.

When the battle proper got under way, the charioteers forced their horses forward in desperation. They killed enemy soldiers but only at the cost of their own lives as their horses slipped on the ground and ‘flung out their drivers’. Some of the horses panicked and fell into the river while others rode into the Indian lines.

The muddy ground also ill-served the Indian archers. Their bows were too large to shoot while standing. In order to fire them, therefore, they were obliged to rest the bow on the ground. But the slippery surface made finding grip difficult and before the troops could ‘make a shot they were overtaken by their swift-moving enemy’.

Porus could not have anticipated the arrival of the storm but he surely has to take responsibility for his men carrying oversized weaponry and for sending his chariots into the mud.

Fortunately for the archers, Porus had already led his elephants into the attack. They not only checked the Macedonian advance but caused panic among Alexander’s men.

Alexander responded by sending ‘the Agrianes and the Thracian light armed’ soldiers against them. Their firepower and mobility gradually wore the elephants down. Despite this, the Indian attack continued and as the day progressed, both Porus and Alexander enjoyed the ascendancy.

The battle finally turned in Alexander’s favour once and for all as the sun started to fall in the west. The Macedonians began using axes to hack at the elephants’ legs, and scythes to chop their trunks off. Exhausted, the elephants retreated – charging through the Indian lines in fear and pain.

One elephant remained, however, and on it sat Porus. He continued to attack until his injuries caused him to nearly faint. His driver turned his elephant round. Alexander pursued it only for his horse to collapse. Mounting another, he continued the chase.

Presently, he caught up with his enemy – injury had forced Porus’ elephant to halt. Barely conscious, Porus ‘began to slip’ out of his basket. His driver thought he wanted to dismount so ordered the elephant to crouch. Seeing this, all the other elephants did likewise, thus bringing the battle to an end. Porus fell out of his basket in front of Alexander.

Porus thereafter was obliged to surrender. In reward for his bravery, Alexander not only gave him his kingdom back but ‘bestowed on him an empire larger than he had formerly held’.

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India

The Nature of Curtius
Book Eight Chapter 6-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six – Eight
Hermolaus and Co.
The Pages’ Conspiracy occupies the attention of all these chapters. The only thing worth noting in this blog post is that the conspiracy originated in Alexander’s treatment of Hermolaus during a hunt.

As Curtius tells it, Alexander ‘ear-marked’ a boar that he wished to kill, only for Hermolaus to get to it first. In punishment, Alexander had his page flogged. Humiliated, Hermolaus conceived his plan to assassinate the king.

As Alexander says during Hermolaus’ trial in chapter eight, the flogging took place according to ‘traditional custom’. Had it just been a matter of humiliation, therefore, Hermolaus might have swallowed his punishment and got on with his work but he was also disillusioned with Alexander’s medising (see chapter seven). The flogging, therefore, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Chapter Nine
India
When Alexander struck camp and set off for India*, his reason for doing so – according to Curtius – is that he wanted to avoid gossip in the camp through inactivity. Undoubtedly, he most wanted people not to talk about his court historian, Callisthenes who had also been executed with the pages.

Certainly, the less said about Callisthenes the better. Not only had he not been part of the conspiracy, but he had not committed any offence other than being a close friend of the conspirators. Furthermore, like so many Macedonians, he was a known opponent of the king’s adoption of Persian dress and customs.

Curtius describes India as being eastward facing, and of greater length than width. He tells us that the country is flat, except for where it is exposed to the south wind; there, the land is is ‘of higher elevation’. The even surface of the ground means that the ‘many famous rivers’ that have their source in the Caucasus pass gently across the Indian plains.

The greatest of the Indian rivers is the Ganges, which flows southwards before being ‘diverted eastwards by some rocky moutaints’. Both it, and the Indus (which, Curtius says, is colder than the other rivers) flow out into the Red Sea, that is, the Indian Ocean. Curtius is not thinking of the more famous Red Sea here but the one named after a king Erythrus, whose name means red in Greek.

As well as being cold, the Indus appears to be a fast flowing river as well, for Curtius describes it as tearing ‘away its banks and many trees on them along with large tracts of soil’. There are boulders in the river, too, and the  waters smash against them ‘violently’. However, after a point, the river calms down and runs slowly between islands.

From what Curtius says, the Acesines seems to act as a tributary for both the Indus and Ganges. In regards the latter, ‘the two rivers [collide] with great violence’ due to an unspecified blockage at the Acesines’ river mouth.

There is another river, the Diardines, which ‘is less well known because it runs through the most remote parts of India’ and is home to crocodiles (‘like the Nile’), dolphins and other ‘creatures unknown’.

Then there is the Ethymantus, which meanders along on an undulating course and is used ‘for irrigation by the natives’. By the time it reaches the Indian Ocean, its water level is so low that the river is given no name.

Curtius tells us that India has many other rivers but they are unnamed due to being in ‘unchartered territory’. Finally, in the matter of rivers, he records that they are ‘gold-bearing’ and that the sea ‘throws up precious stones and pearls on the beaches’.

We’ve seen how the south wind affects the areas of India that are above sea level. The coastal regions suffer under the dryness of the North wind. The interior of the country is less affected as it is protected by the Himalaya mountains. This means that the land is fertile – fruit and flax are both grown / produced there. There is even a type of tree that grows in India, the bark of which is soft and can be used for writing.

Among the animal population, there are birds that ‘can be trained to imitate the human voice’, rhinoceroses and elephants which ‘possess greater strength than those trained in Africa’. They are larger than their African cousins, too.

Curtius makes a note of how ‘the environment also shapes the character of the people’. The preponderance of flax makes linen clothing very popular. The rich wear jewellery made of gold and the king is carried in a ‘golden litter fringed with pearls’. Trained birds sing to him to take his mind off ‘serious matters’.

Nature influences Indian architectural style as well – the king’s palace contains ‘gilded pillars with a vine in gold relief… and silver representations of birds’.

There is a downside to all this, though; the wealth that nature has given the king has made him lazy. When he hunts, the animals are kept in a pen, and he uses an oversized weapon. He travels on horse and elephantback with his ‘long retinue of concubines in golden sedan-chairs’ behind him.

Despite this, the Indians have not lost touch with the land which has blessed them with so much of itself. ‘To anything they have started to cultivate’ Curtius says, ‘they give divine status, especially to trees’. Interfering with one is punishable by death.

And in case there is any doubt, yes, astrology is practiced in India, too.

Finally, Curtius notes how ‘the earth inverts its regular seasonal changes’ but doesn’t know why this happens.

* Nota Bene: When Curtius talks about India he includes the area that now forms Pakistan.

Chapter Ten
A Mountain Party
Entering India, Alexander received the submission of a number of ‘petty kings’. He ‘sent Hephaestion and Perdiccas ahead… to crush any opposition to his power’. Their ultimate destination, however, was the Indus River where Alexander instructed them to make boats for – not only its crossing, but the crossing of any other river that they came to. To achieve this, the two generals made boats that could be dismantled and put back together again as needs be.

At the town of Nysa, the Macedonians inadvertently set fire to the local sepulchres, which were made of cedar. The first the Nysans knew of Alexander’s arrival, though, was when their dogs started barking.

Curtius describes Nysa as being ‘at the foot’ of Mount Meron. The Notes record that in Greek, méros means thigh. As a result of the similarity between the two names, he says, the Greeks invented ‘their story of Father Liber [Dionysus] being concealed in the thigh of Jupiter’.

Alexander led his men to the top of the mountain. Along the way, they found streams that flow all year round rushing past them. Unsurprisingly, ivy and vines were also present up and down the mountain. But that was not all; ‘fruits whose juices have health-giving properties’, soil so fertile it could produce spontaneous harvests, ‘laurels and berry-bushes’ – were all present.

As you might expect, though, the Macedonians made straight for the ivy and vines, making garlands out of them. They noisily worshipped the god of the mountains, and lazed, drinking all the while. Alexander did not oppose the revelry. Quite the reverse – he put on a feast and joined in the fun and feasting. All-in-all, the Macedonian army spent ‘ten days in the worship of Father Liber’.

Once the partying was over, Alexander campaigned against the Daedala people, who tried to hide ‘in some remote, tree-clad mountains’. He crossed the Choaspes River and put the city of Mazagae under siege.

Mazagae was protected on its east side by a ‘swift river’ with sheer banks on the far side. To the west and south of the city were ‘beetling crags’. To the north of the city was ‘a ditch of massive proportions’. The city itself was, of course, fortified.

Alexander dealt with the underground crags by simply rolling boulders and trees into them. This took nine days. Once they were filled up, he rolled his siege towers towards the city. The Mazagaetans were terrified of the towers and Macedonians’ pikes (sarissas?) and retreated to their citadel for long enough to surrender. In due course, Alexander met their queen and, allegedly, proved that both he and her were as fertile as the Indian soil. The queen gave birth to a son whom she named Alexander.

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Slaughter of the Mercenaries

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 84 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Makes Peace with Mazagaeatan Queen
Mercenaries Allowed to Leave Mazagae in Peace
Truce Betrayed? Alexander Attacks Mercenary Camp
Mercenaries Wiped Out

The Story
As mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, a lacuna in the manuscript means we have lost a portion of Diodorus’ text.

The Footnotes state that, according to Diodorus’ chronology, we are missing the period from the end of 328/7 to the start of 327/6 B.C. But we know that his dating is incorrect. In actual fact, it is the period from the summer of 329 to Autumn of 327 B.C. that has been lost.

Apologies to anyone who was confused by yesterday’s assertion that the gap lasted to 327/6 only to be told a line later that the text resumed in the autumn of 327! I should have made it clear that the restart date was the corrected one rather than Diodorus’.

With that (hopefully) clarified, let’s move on.

We rejoin Alexander in Assacenia. He has just captured the city of Mazagae (aka Massaga) and concluded terms with its queen. It appears that Alexander treated her most generously because she ‘sent him valuable gifts and promised to follow his orders in everything’.

Under the terms of the truce, the (Indian) mercenaries who had helped defend Mazagae were allowed to leave the city in peace. They did so, and encamped eighty furlongs away.

What happened next?

That depends on who you read.

According to Diodorus, Alexander had no intention of letting the mercenaries go free. He ‘nursed an implacable hostility towards’ the men and followed them to their camping site. There, he gave the order to attack and ‘wrought a great slaughter’.

The mercenaries scrambled to defend themselves. As they did so, they cried out that the assault ‘was in contravention of the treaty’ and called upon the gods to witness Alexander’s transgression.

Alexander was a pious man, of course, but saw no betrayal in his actions. He told the mercenaries that ‘he had granted them the right to leave the city but not that of being friends of the Macedonians forever’ or even, it seems, for a short period of time.

The mercenaries formed themselves into a ring – with their women and children in the centre – so that they could defend themselves from all sides. They did so with a ‘desperate courage’. For their part, the Macedonians were ‘anxious’ not to be outfought by the barbaroi. The battle raged and much blood was spilled. That notwithstanding, I think we should take Diodorus’ statement that ‘every form of death and wounds was to be seen’ with a very big pinch of salt.

Inevitably, given their superior numbers (and the fact that they appear to have been using their sarissas), the Macedonians gained the upper hand. The Indian women were forced to take the place of the dead and dying men. They were, Diodorus says, ‘brave beyond their nature’.

But the women could only delay the inevitable. All those who fought the Macedonians were ‘cut down, winning a glorious death in preference to basely saving their lives at any cost’.

Once the battle was over, Alexander took the surviving women and children prisoner. Perhaps, as he had done previously, they were eventually allowed to settle in one of his cities.

Comments
According to Curtius, the queen of Mazagae was called Cleophis. He alleges that Alexander agreed to let her remain as queen on account of her beauty rather than because of his ‘compassionate nature’. ‘And it is a fact,’ he adds, ‘that [Cleophis] subsequently bore a son who was named Alexander, whoever his father was.’

The Footnotes to my Penguin (2004) edition of Curtius tell me that Justin says that Alexander was indeed the boy’s father.

As for Alexander agreeing to let Cleophis remain as queen on account of her beauty – it sounds a very male thing to do! Maybe, then, we should take the allegation seriously. But while Alexander had a romantic side I don’t think he ever let beauty get in the way of a necessary political decision. I think this story is more true to whoever first wrote it down rather than to Alexander himself.

In regards Cleophis’ son, while one can’t rule Alexander’s paternity out, I wonder if Justin has got the wrong end of the stick. She named her son Alexander out of respect for the king who had let her be queen rather than because of sex with him.

What happened next?

That depends on who you read.

… You’ve seen Diodorus’ account. Plutarch shares it. While Curtius doesn’t mention the mercenaries, Arrian says that Alexander massacred them because they intended to desert. The Footnotes say very neatly that this ‘presents historians with a nice dilemma: was Diodorus’ source blackening Alexander’s reputation, or was Arrian’s whitening it?

My immediate reaction is if Diodorus’ story is true why does Curtius not mention it? He wrote a ‘sensational’ account of Alexander’s life, didn’t he? Surely this incident would be just the kind of thing he would want to mention. Now, there may be a good reason for his omission (perhaps he does mention the fight elsewhere in his book) but until I discover I shall side with Arrian. Yes, because of Ptolemy but also because justice demands it.

Famous Greek Jokes
Child
Please please please can I have a little treaty, daddy?
Father Alright, my son; here you are.
Child But you’ve given me nothing!
Father Just be thankful that I haven’t killed you, my son.

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